ricardienne: (tacitus)
I am so unsurprised that David Brooks loves Anthony Trollope:
His most admirable characters have been educated by long experience. They have grown mature by exercising responsibility. They have been ennobled by custom and civilization. In his books, powerless outsiders often behave self-indulgently and irresponsibly. Those who are in government have to grapple with the world as it really is.

...Trollope’s ideal politicians share certain traits. They are reserved, prudent and scrupulous. They immerse themselves in dull practical questions like, say, converting the currency system.

...Trollope’s leaders don’t embrace change quickly but have to be dragged into embracing it after much interrogation, and the change they prefer is incremental.

Trollope praises one of his prime ministers, Plantagenet Palliser, for “that exquisite combination of conservatism and progress which is [his country’s] present strength and her best security for the future.”

Trollope's heroes, political and otherwise, are conservative (politically conservative even by the standards of Victorian England) and privileged men who are determined to preserve the status quo in which they are privileged. They work 10-4 days (with a healthy break for lunch in between), work within a network of similarly privileged compatriots, and have servants and wives to take care of their material needs. Whether clergymen or civil servants or MPs, they are dutiful and virtuous Victorian bureaucrats and those pesky reformers nattering on about social evils and reform are an unwelcome distraction from the serious business of making business as usual is as usual. Trollope is quite explicitly the anti-Dickens: corruption, child labor, crushing poverty are always overblown and/or easily solved by some nice paternalism -- for which don't the upper classes deserve to be wildly more upper than everyone else?

And this is consistently David Brook's fantasy world of politics, as well: the "right" people who grow up with the "right" education in an environment tolerant of their mistakes do a decent job of keeping everything together so that they can keep on being decent people. Which is all very well if you are a well-off white male in the system -- but it doesn't serve a lot of other people very well at all.
ricardienne: (chord)
...Because if you don't take at least a few advanced college level classes in literature, or history, or sociology, or philosophy, or art history (or...), you may end up going through life spouting really stupid things about literature that you would have been embarrassed to write in your most embarrassing Freshman Seminar "Shakespeare's depiction of Hamlet's indecision makes him a very human character and shows that he deeply understands the human condition" essay. In other words, you may end up like David Brooks himself.

Some choice bits from today's column about the value of a Humanities education.

Studying the humanities will give you a familiarity with the language of emotion. In an information economy, many people have the ability to produce a technical innovation: a new MP3 player. Very few people have the ability to create a great brand: the iPod. Branding involves the location and arousal of affection, and you can’t do it unless you are conversant in the language of romance.

Seriously? Seriously? Ignoring the fact that Steve Jobs was a college drop-out, literature and art and history do not make you more equipped to understand actual people, or to influence them. Quite the opposite, in my case

Studying the humanities will give you a wealth of analogies. People think by comparison — Iraq is either like Vietnam or Bosnia; your boss is like Narcissus or Solon. People who have a wealth of analogies in their minds can think more precisely than those with few analogies. If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon, you’ll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.

On the one hand, I can't really argue with this point, because, well, exempla from history! In a larger way, it is certainly true that recognizing the allusions that make up a great deal of one's cultural discourse is a good thing to be able to do. And yet I don't think that more facile comparisons to the Peloponnesian War or the Fall of the American Roman Empire improve said discourse. Quite the contrary -- this kind of thing is exactly why I can't stand David Brooks in the first place! (See: "Once, I took a college course on the Englightenment; now I can talk about the fundamental divisions in views of human nature.")

Finally, and most importantly, studying the humanities helps you befriend The Big Shaggy.

Let me try to explain. Over the past century or so, people have built various systems to help them understand human behavior: economics, political science, game theory and evolutionary psychology. These systems are useful in many circumstances. But none completely explain behavior because deep down people have passions and drives that don’t lend themselves to systemic modeling. They have yearnings and fears that reside in an inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy.

Oh yes, he went there. Brooks goes on to talk about the various sides of his chest monster -- from illicit affairs of passion to over-confident investors, to awesome athletes and manly soldiers manfully giving their all: "The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy."

But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

It’s probably dangerous to enter exclusively into this realm and risk being caught in a cloister, removed from the market and its accountability. But doesn’t it make sense to spend some time in the company of these languages — learning to feel different emotions, rehearsing different passions, experiencing different sacred rituals and learning to see in different ways?

Again, leaving aside that dig at academia -- this formulation bothers me a lot. Part of it is rhetoric: B. clearly wants it both ways: that the Humanities teach you about the mysterious universal emotional core at the heart of the human experience and also teach you about "different emotions...passions...rituals." And talking about experiencing the works of "rare and strange" creators who can enlighten us about our hidden humanity? Utter utter crap. But most of all: the Humanties are not "rich veins of emotional knowledge" opposed to sterile and technical sciences! They are amenable to analysis, too! (Not to mention the fact that the "sciences" aren't completely divorced from "very human" aspirations and deep desires. Nor, in my experience, does mathematics (at least) not also cause one to marvel at the beauty and mystery in the universe, if that is your thing.) They mean different things to different people in different periods! Things we call "the humanities" are not some obscure "emotional language" -- on the contrary, they are in actual human languages and symbolic systems that cohere, are the product of thought and conscious intentions (although the specific intentions themselves are usually obscure), engage with ideas that can be debated in other forms and other forums, engage critical thinking as much as any other subject of study, and frequently were created with functions OTHER THAN our own, latter-day, feel-good "emotional satisfaction." In other words: there are real things there, not the revelations of an obscure and hidden "shaggy beast" of deepest-seated primal urges that have remained unchanged over the centuries (as if!). Those real things are what are worth studying -- first, because they are real, second, because whether you are expanding your understanding of your own society's cultural history and past and traditions in some way, or whether you are studying those someone else's, taking a broader view of the world than the point in which your life happen to exist is a good thing.

And thirdly, one ought to study these things to a reasonably advanced level because the way in which one analyzes "the humanities" is a particular way of approaching ideas and representations of ideas, of thinking about their antecedents, contexts, the conclusions they imply, and the significance that they do or have had. This kind of critical thinking is a valuable skill to have -- whether you are going to apply it to novels, or advertisements, or interpersonal relations, or political speeches -- just as the ability to break down a problem and examine it with the scientific method is a valuable skill to have.

(also, texts are exciting!)
ricardienne: (Default)
I've read two pseudo-historical-fantasy-teen-romances recently: Marissa Doyle's Betwitching Season (Regency/Fantasy Wrede-Sternmer knockoff) and Anne Osterlund's Aurelia (psuedo-18th-century, fairy-tale, empowerment romance). They both have those fashionable photographic covers: pretty girl in a pretty, frilly dress.

This is a silly and petty thing to get annoyed about I know, but it's so obvious, even at a glance, that the lace is cheap machine-done stuff, and that the embroidery was machined onto the fabric on the bolt, with the dress-maker not bothering to make it match along the seams at all. The fan is most clearly plastic, and its ribbon trim isn't even pasted on evenly. The lace of the sleeve is not only the flat and cheap Barbie's-Bride-Costume variety, but it isn't even sewn on well. I bet I could photo-shop something better.


Oct. 29th, 2007 05:26 pm
ricardienne: (Default)
F(urther) from the annals of of People Are Stupid When It Comes to Stuff Outside Their Major:

"I mean, Dante more or less saved Virgil by putting him into [i]Divine Comedy[/i]."

I know the girl in question is a) An Italian major and b) hadn't been assigned the reading about the manuscript tradition we were discussing, but… And that was only the most obvious and egregious piece of wrong in all the medieval-hate that went on.

I can see that classicists are understandably cranky about how (relatively) little has survived, and the condition in which it (often) has survived. And yes, there were book-burnings in late Antiquity/early Middle Ages, and yes, they were religiously motivated. And I am completely in agreement that it was awful, and how could they have been so blind to what they were destroying. In fact, when I'm depressed, I lie awake at night and get really upset about how much and what has been lost.

But in light of that, to accuse the monastic traditions that DID preserve and recopy things of being ignorant zealots who only by some miracle happened to transmit important texts instead of burning them is REALLY REALLY STUPID. Also not terribly accurate.
ricardienne: (snape denial)
Books to read when I'm back home and have time for utterly frivolous reading (and don't have to request them via inter-library loan).

-The new Chrestomanci book (the existence of which I just learned about yesterday) about Cat and Chrestomanci.
-All of A Series of Unfortunate Events (a reread for the first two-thirds-ish), so I can read the last one.
-Twilight, to keep on top of the latest teenage vampire trends.
-The New Tamora Pierce Book, I guess, even though I couldn't make it through the exerpt on her website. But I have to see if it has any howlers along the lines of "Hakkoi's Hammer! What is that?"
-The new Wrede-Stevernmer novel, even though Grand Tour wasn't nearly as good as Sorcery and Cecilia.
-Imperium (I'm blanking on the author) -- maybe. It got a good review in today's Book Review, but then, I've also read some pretty negative reviews, and it's long, and I sort of want to get a handle on the Late Republic history-wise before I launch into a lengthy novel about it.
-I think there were another couple, but this will serve for now.

I am going to mail in my ballot tomorrow. Oh, I hope we can get some decent people into the legislature! And then there are the propositions. Among the things that I, as an Arizona citizen, got to vote on this time:

-Whether or not to establish a lottery in which everyone who votes will be entered. The idea is that it will make people vote. I guess some people don't think the nifty little stickers are enough of an incentive.

-The obligatory marriage amendment, which would additionally bar any kind of civil unions AND prohibit any local governments from giving partner-benefits. Can we say spiteful?

-To deny punitive damages to parties in civil suits who can't prove their immigration status. This one is just STUPID. The whole point of punitive damages is to punish the other party: it should have nothing to do with who the injured party is. In other words, we are going to say that it's less bad to, say, kill the relative of an illegal alien while drunk than to kill the relative of a citizen. And the terrible thing is that this probably IS what the proponents of this proposition believe, but won't say in so many words. I think its in defence of this proposition that someone submitted a claim about "gangs of illegal aliens roaming the suburbs and committing organized crime." (Oh, please. The only gangs of illegal immigrants in your cookie-cutter gated community are the ones trimming your lawn.) Or maybe that was for the proposition to deny bail to those who can't prove their immigration status at the time of arrest.

But undoubtably the stupidest proposition on the ballot is the English as the Official Language of Arizona one.
Among its provisions:

Section 3. A. Representatives of government in this state shall preserve, protect, and enhance the role of English as the official language of the government of Arizona.

"Preserve, protect, and enhance the role of English" includes:
(a) Avoiding any official actions that ignore, harm, or diminsih the role of English as the language of government
(b) Protecting the rights of the persons in this state who use English."

So if this passes, I could sue Bush next time he makes a speech in Arizon, right?

But seriously, what is wrong with this state country? We already have English Only education; this one is mostly designed to protect employers from discrimintion suits when they fire their employees for speaking Spanish during the breaks (it won't do much else, as Federal law requires us to provide government documents in other languages). One would think that living on the border with a country that speaks a foreign language would make use less, not more phobic about multi-lingualism.
ricardienne: (snail)
Maybe. I am definitely preparing to fake my way through class tomorrow by not really studying and doing this instead.

New York was awesome, but that may be because anything with F. is awesome. We went to the Frick gallery, which was… oh my goodness so unbelievable! We were looking at an Renaissance Adoration of the Magi and making fun of the angels on hovercrafts* and then I turned around, and there was Sir Thomas More. The Holbein portrait! (Although I don't suppose there is another one.) I am of two minds about More. On the one hand, I've seen A Man for All Seasons, but on the other, I like Richard III. I cautiously accept, therefore, the hypothesis that he was actually satirizing Henry VII and the Tudor Myth when he wrote his biography of Richard, but a)I don't know enough to know if this is a legitimate theory or not, and b)it does seem like a cop-out. I bought a postcard, though, which I now have on my wall.
*seriously. The background sky was full of these hovering cloud things with angels perched on them. It was very funny.

But it did make me wonder again what I'm doing here, being in New York. I love cities. I hail mostly from western suburbia, it is true, but whenever I spend time in a realy city, I love it. I like walking on treets, and watching people and looking at buildings, and feeling like I'm part of something. I LIKE being anonymous, sometimes. I knew this before I went to college, and yet I still ended up on an ugly campus roughly in the middle of nowhere. In high school, it was "in college, you'll be somewhere you want to be," and now it's, "in grad school, you'll go somewhere you really want to go." Which means that I'll probably end up at U Death Valley for grad school, with the proviso that, "when you get a job, it will be where you want to live." Ha.

The first rehearsal for the Monteverdi was tonight. It went pretty well, I guess. The coach only had baroque bows for the violins, which was too bad, as holding my bow out on the stick kind of makes my hand hurt. But she did say that she would bring the contact info for the head of that summer baroque program next time, and this is good.

David Brooks was his usual hideous self this morning.

Lunch Period Poli Sci )

Now, to cheer myself up, I will do the Alphabet Meme:

Comment on this entry (er, if anyone reading this hasn't done this one already or wants to do it again!) and I will give you a letter. Write ten words beginning with that letter, and tell us what the word means to you and why.

I have the letter "n" from [livejournal.com profile] st_egfroth:

10 N-words )
ricardienne: (angelo)
So it seems that girls are supposed to write, or to make up stories. At least, there is a certain tradition of this being the case. (This is actually kind of related to what I wrote yesterday.) Is this because girls are inherently prone to fancy whereas boys are inherently realistic? Of course! Not to mention that girls are designed for quiet pursuits like reading and writing, boys for activities like physical play*. That's why Muscular Christianity had to come along: all of that studying scriptures and being kind to thy neighbor was just too feminine for real men.**
*Early medieval noblewomen were much more likely to be literate than their male counterparts, in fact.
**This I am not making up

One would think that we would not find this sort of thing on the editorial page of the New York Times. But between John Tierney's periodic "women are actually happier to cook, clean, and raise children while their husbands support them" columns and David Brooks' "we are ruining America's boys by forcing them to become girly and intellectual when they clearly aren't meant to be" ones, one is uncertain what decade we are in already.

Yesterday, Brooks took up a new thread in this argument that was strangely familiar to someone who has been getting increasingly more furious at him for the last year or so:

Virtues and Victims )


ricardienne: (Default)

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